Towards finality? A preliminary assessment of the achievements of the European Convention

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Series Details No.4, 2003
Publication Date 2003
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Article abstract:

In his widely received speech on 12 May 2000 at the Humboldt University in Berlin, German Minister of Foreign Affairs Joschka Fischer characterised the debate on the future of the European Union as concerning the 'finality' of European integration. While this expression may set the standards too high, the current Convention on the Future of the European Union seems determined to clear the ground for a revolutionary revision of the Union. Even if the Convention will not determine the structure of the Union once and for all, it seems at least to be determined to put an end to the continuous Treaty-revision process that started with the Treaty of Maastricht in 1992 and then led to Amsterdam and Nice.

The grain of the emerging revolution is apparent in the form proposed for its end-product: a Constitutional Treaty that is to replace the existing treaties as the fundamentals of European co-operation. Thus the Convention has given its own twist to the mandate it received from the European Council of Laeken: 'to consider the key issues arising for the Union's future development and try to identify the various possible responses'. The question of what might be the basic features of a constitution of the Union featured only as one question among more than 50 others. By proposing a new Constitutional Treaty, the Convention aims for a fundamental overhaul of the existing Treaty framework.

This paper seeks to present a first impression of what the Convention will achieve: will it really provide the final outlines of the European Union or will it merely be another step along the long and winding road of European political cooperation? It does so by filtering from the Convention debates those proposals that are most likely to be adopted and to have a lasting impact. The paper thus focuses on the substance of the Convention's work. It does not address the procedures followed by the Convention, nor the ways in which the debates have developed inside and outside its sessions.

Obviously as long as the Convention has not finished its work, some speculation is required as to what its actual conclusions will be. Even if nothing has been agreed yet, the contours of the final solutions are clearly dawning as the Chair has engaged the Convention in a kind of encircling process. The Chair first had the Convention focus on relatively technical issues such as simplification and legal personality. After that the debate moved on to take stock of various competences. The most contentious issues, involving the institutional order and democracy, were purposefully left to last.

Thus a firm foundation has been established that structures the actual drafting work in which the Convention is now engaging. For sure, there are still quite a number of contentious issues to settle and in principle the Convention may still fail if any one of these would turn the current constructive atmosphere into a polarised one. However, even then the work of the Convention so far has already established an 'acquis' that clearly indicates the way the current Treaties are to be revised.

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